Statement of Significance

The High Weald is one of the best-preserved medieval landscapes in north-west Europe. Despite its large size (1,461 and proximity to London, its landscape has remained relatively unchanged since the 14th century, surviving major historical events and accommodating significant social and technological changes.

The natural beauty of the High Weald AONB is derived from the essentially rural and small-scale landscape character, rich in wildlife and cultural features. It has been created by historic and locally distinctive agricultural and forestry practices with the story of its past visible throughout. The extensive survival of woodland and traditional mixed farming supports an exceptionally well-connected green and blue infrastructure, with a high proportion of natural surfaces. Food production and semi-natural habitat are interwoven in a structurally diverse, permeable and complex mosaic supporting a rich diversity of wildlife. A dense network of historic routeways and public rights of way provides access for people to get close to nature and experience its natural beauty. The pattern and landscape setting of dispersed historic settlements enriches its natural beauty, with small, irregular fields and pasture, hedgerows and ancient woodlands interspersed with the rich clay-tiled roofscapes of historic buildings. Greenness, a sense of tranquillity and dark skies contribute to the perceptual and scenic qualities people enjoy.

The Management Plan articulates natural beauty through eight core character components of natural beauty which are rooted in historic characterisation of the High Weald landscape as a whole, and represent the cultural imprint of generations on the natural inheritance of the area. These components encompass finer-grained key characteristics which include habitats, features of interest and cultural associations, and all combine to create a distinct and recognisable landscape whose natural beauty exceeds the sum of its parts.

Each core component of natural beauty is of equal and stand-alone importance in its own right, (i.e., they cannot be ranked) and any policy or action may be considered harmful to the AONB if it results in the loss of, or material harm to, any of these components of character. All of the AONB is important; any areas perceived as ‘degraded’ should be seen as opportunities for enhancement of natural beauty contributing positively to the purpose of designation and objectives of the Management Plan.

1,461 sq km

The total size of the High Weald National Landscape – it is the largest in South East England and the fourth largest in England and Wales.

Core Character Components of the High Weald’s natural beauty comprise:

  1. Natural systems (geology, soils, water and climate) – a deeply incised, ridged and faulted landform of clays and sandstone with highly variable, relatively undisturbed soils and numerous headwaters (gill streams) functioning under an oceanic climate.
  2. Settlement – dispersed historic settlement including high densities of isolated farmsteads, hamlets and late medieval villages founded on trade and non-agricultural rural industries.
  3. Routeways – a dense network of historic routeways (now roads, tracks and paths).
  4. Woodland – an abundance of ancient woodland mostly in small holdings, highly interconnected with hedges and shaws.
  5. Fieldscapes and heath – small, irregular and productive fields, bounded by hedgerows and woods, and typically used for livestock grazing; with distinctive zones of lowland heaths and inned river valleys (reclaimed marshland).
  6. Dark night skies – intrinsically dark at night with our own galaxy (the milky way) visible.
  7. Aesthetic and perceptual qualities –arising from the interaction of people with the landscape, including the notion of a quintessential English pastoral landscape, intimacy of scale, a sense of history and timelessness; rurality and tranquillity; glimpsed long views; freedom to explore and make connections with the natural world, and a rich legacy of features and ideas left by writers, poets and gardeners inspired by the landscape.
  8. Land-based economy and rural living – with roots extending deep into history, and which has visibly and culturally shaped the landscape